June 16, 2016

The Open Closet

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:33 pm by historywardrobe

Where do your cast-off clothes go? Do you spare them a second thought when they go off to the second-hand market?

My travels in the American mid-West recently included several trawls in antique malls, where I found some delightful vintage frocks.  But what of the fate of more contemporary clothes? What happens to the garments culled from our wardrobes?  Let me invite you into the basement of St John’s Lutheran church, in the surprisingly lovely town of Dubuque, Iowa.  open closetHere, in The Open Closet, you’ll find a freshly-painted, neatly-ordered set of rooms laid out like a nice clothes store.  The stock is entirely made up of donations – roughly 150 bin bags of them a week (double this after a clothing drive).  A team of volunteers, under the expert aegis of Ruth Pugh, sort the clothes into female, male, girl & boy categories. There’s even a rather moving section of tiny garments for premature babies. Clothes are also sorted seasonally. So far, all pretty similar to any charity clothing shop.

Here’s the difference.  The clothes are all free.

Yes, for 27 years The Open Closet has been serving the needs of the community with not a price-tag in sight.  And the clients?  While I watched Ruth at work putting winter gear to one side, a young woman arrived. She seemed quite quiet.  She had just been released from prison and urgently needed a set of clothes. ‘How many items can I take?’ she asked shyly.  ‘Take whatever you need,’ Ruth said, leaving the woman to browse in peace.  Take whatever you need. A simple sentence, deep with generosity and significance for this young woman starting fresh.  Worth thinking about if you (like me) suspect that you have far, far more than you need.

IMG_1494 (2)The Open Closet is also there for people who’ve lost everything in a house fire or floods; for homeless people; for those who’ve sought refuge from violence in shelters, leaving troubled homes with literally only the clothes on their backs. Indeed, Ruth says The Open Closet is for anyone in the community who needs to be clothed.  Premature babies to prom dresses, in fact.

635937248770834705-Loras-College-Fire-6After lightening struck dorms of nearby Loras College, the young people burnt out of their rooms came to The Open Closet for new outfits.  By coincidence, one of the courageous citizens who spotted the fire, raised the alarm, then helped them escape safely (saving 45 lives) was honoured for his efforts at the same ceremony where Ruth herself was honoured for her tremendous contributions as a community volunteer.

We are not naked creatures in society. Clothes give us dignity, identity and confidence.

Ruth says she keeps a special section of work gear – overalls & ‘scrubs’ and such like – for people on low-wage jobs who need clothes that are fit for purpose. Also, she sets aside smart clothes for work-eager people going to job interviews.  Ruth recalled the story of a boot-less man due for a job interview. Without work-boots = no interview; no work.  He was referred to The Open Closet and kitted out. He got the job.

IMG_1493 (2)And this isn’t some shabby free-for-all, with any old stuff piled on tables to be picked over.  The clothes are only put out if they are clean and flawless. Clients can browse in a nice environment.  They respond by respecting the place and the stock… and perhaps themselves a bit more too.

The Open Closet works quite closely with the associated men’s shelter Almost Home.  As well as receiving much-needed clothes, the men have been known to donate clothes back to the Closet when they can, and some come to volunteer too.

Not all the clothes find new wearers, and here’s where the next level of re-use happens.  A company called St Vincent de Paul, which works to help those in poverty, collects items to sell on for shredding.  Another company, Remains collects unwanted items too.  Before the recession Remains were able to pay about $1 a sack for ‘rejects.’ Now they can’t pay, but the clothes are at least shredded, and the rags can be re-used… a tradition which has a long, long history.

As ever, The Open Closet is seeking more volunteers. Ruth isn’t above bribing helpers with candy.  “If you really want to make a difference and see that difference, volunteer here,” she says.  “You will make people happy.”

Dubuque, Iowa, may be too far for many of us to travel to.  Why not seek out local organisations and charities to find a second home for your clothes? They deserve the longest life possible.

The young woman choosing her out-of-prison outfit while I was in the Closet said as she left (holding her new clothes), “I hope to donate things back again when I can…”

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February 17, 2016

Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:54 pm by historywardrobe

Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:53 pm by historywardrobe

Source: Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

February 14, 2016

Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:57 pm by historywardrobe

miladysboudoir

History Wardrobe

It’s been some time since I last attended a History Wardrobe presentation. However, that has now been corrected as yesterday I spent the afternoon enjoying yet again Lucy Adlington and Meredith Towne’s humour, expert knowledge and style at the Bagshaw Museum in nearby Batley.

the set

Fairy tale fashion display

“Once upon a time… Step into your favourite stories as we explore the world of magical clothes – the red riding hood, cloaks of invisibility, seven league boots and, of course, the legendary glass slippers.
In Fairytale Fashion we explore the enchanting history of the Princess dress, from Cinderella’s ball gown to Princess Diana and Disney. A dazzling fairy godmother dresses Cinderella for all the glory of an 18th Century ball.”

Display

I recognised the Ladybird Books from my own childhood

To begin … Once upon a time … Lucy sets out the ‘rules’ of fairy tales – Be careful who you meet; Be…

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September 1, 2015

A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:14 pm by historywardrobe

Source: A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:51 pm by historywardrobe

Costume & Conflict

Pack Up Your Troubles: Gretna

On Saturday I escaped the chaos of the last weekend of Edinburgh Fringe for an entirely different kind of festival, the Pack Up Your Troubles First World War festival in Gretna. I made this trip in order to see a presentation from The History Wardrobe, and unfortunately did not manage to see anything else at the festival (I wish I could have attended the Make Do & Mend session at the Devil’s Porridge Museum, but I have lined up a visit to that museum for another time! ). I did however learn a little about the history of the area beyond my minimal knowledge (via Jane Austen) of Gretna Green as a destination for quick marriages.

Gretna was known during the First World War for HM Factory which spread over 9 miles and employed 30,000 workers – who were largely female. By 1917 the…

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July 29, 2015

Power-dressing through history

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:40 pm by historywardrobe

New Look patterns 1980s (4)

1980s female work suits. The monochrome palette & broad shoulders suggest seriousness and quasi masculine impact. Cleavage, heels and sleek hosiery hint at sexuality. A difficult balance to get right at work, even now.

“One day I was doing a signing in a London bookshop and next in the queue was a lady in what, back in the eighties, was called a ‘power suit’ despite its laughable lack of titanium armour and proton guns…”

– Terry Pratchett in Meditations on Middle Earth, 2001

Hilda Rogan - Bus Conductress WW1

Hilda Rogan, WW1 bus conductor, enjoys the power and public acknowledgement conferred by a uniform

Clothes convey power

Armour has its place as powerful outwear, and there are also the obvious signifiers of power, such as crowns, capes and military insignia.  But everyday ‘civilian’ clothes have powerful messages of their own.

Sometimes this is through a literally enhanced presence: strong boots, built up shoulders, excess of fabric.  Sometimes, instead of standing out, power is conferred by homogeneity – belonging to a group all wearing the same uniform. Perhaps a suit.

Historically, certain colours and fabrics have been jealously categorised as elite-only, and therefore power-enhancing: consider the colour purple, for example, or the Sumptuary Laws limiting silks to certain ranks.

Conceal or Reveal

How much of your body clothes cover is also significant.  For example, are cultural requirements to hide the body, hair or face a form of gendered manipulation or a means of keeping power through modesty?  Or, when clothes such as corsets, cages and contoured pads are used to mould the natural form into a fashionable shape, who has the power – the fashion industry, the consumer, or the spectator?  As for etiquette, for much of human history, hats have played a crucial role in asserting power, or, when doffing a hat, offering homage to someone of higher status… or as an act of so-called chivalry.

Who’s Wearing the Trousers?

Suits You 1983 trouser suit

1983 office suit. Trousers for female leisure wear were worn by a few from the 1920s onwards; only by the 21st century were they fully ‘normal’ in all professional situations (except No. 1 dress in the military).

Historical Paris costumes (8)

A 13th-c Knight Templar: Obvious power through chainmail, cloak, Christian symbol & sword

Trousers have very strong associations with power. The Romans disdained them as fit for barbarians (outsiders) only. 18th-century gentlemen at first scorned them in favour of breeches, then followed George ‘Beau’ Brummell’s example in wearing them. By the 19th century they were firmly established as a fundamental garment for men. To wear trousers meant having freedom-of-movement, as well as the symbolic power of patriarchy. No wonder women had to fight so hard to wear them, enduring ridicule in the 1860s with Turkish trousers, then wary admiration for cycling breeches in the 1890s, and finally a long, slow integration of trousers into everyday wear. We might ask – is there ‘power’ still in skirts and dresses?  For Transgender people, how might the power dynamic change when adopting clothes weighted with such assumptions about gender?

Stay Laces 1967 girdle

Are seductive clothes a passive form of power-dressing? Here, an elasticated nylon girdle and under-wired bra from 1967

Leaving the Past Behind?

Many of our clothing choices are still based on cultural constructs from history.  In an era of fast fashion, ‘designer’ labels and creeping informality how, if at all, do we show power now?

Lucy Adlington @historywardrobe is author of Great War Fashion; also Fashion:Women in World War One, and the forthcoming book from Penguin Random House, Stitches In Time, the Story of the Clothes we Wear

She runs History Wardrobe – delightful costume-in-context presentations – and lectures extensively in the UK

Join the #csfashionhour discussion 2pm September 4th 2015

June 16, 2015

Knitting and Sewing

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:56 am by historywardrobe

A lovely first-hand account of WW2 thrift and ingenuity

A Housewife's Work

Crafts are coming back into fashion again, but rather as a hobby than a necessity. In this post, my Mum looks back to the knitting and sewing during the war and post war years.

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British Women Go To War by J.G. Priestley / P.G. Hennell

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:52 am by historywardrobe

This is a gem of a book and the colour photos, although posted, are highly inspirational

propagandaphotos

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May 8, 2015

Where Did Their Clothes Go? Textile Recycling at the Foundling Hospital

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:45 pm by historywardrobe

I always enjoy finding out more about historical recycling of textiles

alicedolan

The Foundling Hospital was set up to care for children whose parents were unable to support them. The first children were accepted in 1741 and it was quickly recognised that the Hospital provided a valuable public service. From 2 June 1756 to 25 March 1760 Parliament provided funds for the Hospital to accept all children presented to it. Nearly 15,000 children aged 12 months or under were accepted.

Babies entered the Hospital wearing clothes provided by their mothers and were commonly garbed in decorative printed, checked and striped gowns. Yet these garments could not be used again by the Foundlings because the Hospital required its charges to wear a uniform. Infants were dressed identically in grey, the older children wore brown. With 15,000 children entering the Hospital in the space of four years, tens of thousands of garments were collected. So where did these clothes go?

Textiles were expensive during…

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